More than 50 years after they entered the NBA as the Buffalo Braves in 1970, the Los Angeles Clippers are still yet to achieve the ultimate success. They’ve never even made it out of the Western Conference, and up until 2010 were wildly unsuccessful, making the postseason just seven times in 40 years.
But despite that lack of success, they’ve managed to make a few savvy selections on draft night. Unsurprisingly, a couple of the best of those came just prior to their aforementioned turnaround in fortunes, though they did also make some good pick ups during their less successful periods. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the ten best draft picks in Clippers history.
10. Michael Cage (Pick 14, 1984)
Michael Cage wasn’t the Clippers’ first pick in the 1984 draft, but he was their best one. He only played around 20 minutes per game and didn’t exactly fill the stats sheet in his first couple of seasons, but in season three he upped his output significantly to average 15.7 points and 11.5 rebounds, while the year after he averaged 14.5 points and 13.0 rebounds, enough for him to lead the league in the latter statistic. But that was all she wrote as far as his career with the Clippers went, and he was traded to the Supersonics after that season.
9. Loy Vaught (Pick 13, 1990)
After not making the playoffs for 14 seasons, the Clippers picked up Vaught with the 13th pick in 1990, and though he took a little while to make an impact, he ultimately went on to have a really solid career for the franchise. In all he played eight seasons with the Clippers, and at the peak of his powers averaged 17.5 points and 9.6 assists. Injuries meant he played just ten games in 1997-98 after three very good previous seasons, after which he was moved to Detroit. He would never again reach the heights that he had in Los Angeles.
8. Ken Norman (Pick 19, 1987)
Like Michael Cage, Ken Norman wasn’t the Clippers’ first pick in 1987. They had two before him, but neither of those made much of an impact, and it was instead with the 19th pick where they found their diamond in the rough. Norman would go on to play six seasons with the Clippers, averaging at least 15 point on over 50% shooting in four of those. The 1988-89 season was his best; in it, he averaged 18.1 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. Unfortunately, the Clippers didn’t enjoy much success while he was there, and he signed as a free agent with the Bucks in 1993.
7. Lamar Odom (Pick 4, 1999)
The fourth pick in the 1999 draft, Lamar Odom had a long and relatively successful career in the NBA, and if a larger portion of it had been spent with the Clippers then he would likely be higher on this list. In all he spent just four seasons in Los Angeles, but he had a big impact in both of them. He wasted no time making his mark on the NBA, averaging 16.6 points, 7.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists in his rookie season en route to a NBA All-Rookie First Team selection, and would put up similar numbers in his next three years there. In the last of those, however, he played only 43 games, and subsequently headed to Miami after the Clippers opted not to sign an offer the Heat made for the restricted free agent.
6. Chris Kaman (Pick 6, 2003)
Chris Kaman had a fair bit of pressure on his shoulders coming into the NBA given who was picked ahead of him in the 2003 – a list which includes LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh. But while his career may have fallen a fair way short of the first three of those in particular, Kaman was still one of the better starting centers in the NBA during his heyday. He spent eight years with the Clippers, and was selected to the All-Star team in 2010 during a season in which he averaged 18.5 points and 9.3 rebounds. In 2011 he was traded to the New Orleans Hornets, paving the way for another dominant Clippers center – who is ahead of him on this list – to make his mark on the team.
5. Danny Manning (Pick 1, 1988)
After being selected with the first pick in 1988, Danny Manning endured an ignominious start to his NBA career. In his first 26 games he averaged an impressive 16.7 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.1 assists, but unfortunately that was as far as his rookie season went. He suffered an ACL injury which would see him miss the rest of that season, but he returned impressively the next season and put up similar numbers. In all he played six seasons with the Clippers, making the All-Star team in the last two of them. After being traded to the Hawks thereafter he spent another ten seasons in the league, but none of them were as good as what he produced in Los Angeles.
4. Deandre Jordan (Pick 35, 2008)
After being selected in the second round of the 2008 draft, no one could have predicted the impact that Deandre Jordan would go on to have on the Clippers franchise. For ten seasons he was a key member of the Lob City trio, regularly on the receiving end of Chris Paul’s famed passing ability, while he also happened to be as good as anyone on the glass for a long period. In the last five of his ten seasons with the Clippers he averaged at least 13.5 boards, leading the league in that category twice, while he was also a 2x All-Defensive First Team member, 2x All-NBA Third Team member and 1x All-Star. Unfortunately that talented team didn’t quite do the damage in the postseason which many expected of them, but Jordan was still a brilliant pick up, particularly at number 35 in the draft.
3. Bob McAdoo (Pick 2, 1972)
Just a couple of years into their life in the NBA, the Clippers – then the Buffalo Braves – drafted Bob McAdoo with the second pick, and with it secured one of the most talented players to wear their uniform. In his first season he won the Rookie of the Year Award with 18.0 points and 9.1 rebounds – in the next those numbers jumped up to a huge 30.6 and 15.1, while the year after he averaged 34.5 points and 14.1 rebounds. Unsurprisingly he was an NBA All-Star and All-NBA both those years, while in the second of them he was the league MVP. Midway through the 1976-77 season, however, he was traded, bringing to an abrupt end a short but brilliant career with the Clippers. McAdoo was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2000.
2. Randy Smith (Pick 104, 1971)
You don’t have to do all that much to be considered a value selection at pick 104, but Smith went above and beyond in ticking that box. Dare I say it, he’d have to be the best pick 104 in league history! In eight years with the Clippers, Smith was a 2x All-Star – in 1978 winning the All-Star Game MVP – and the 18.4 points per game he averaged in that time were enough to take him to the top of the franchise’s all-time scoring list, where he remains to this day. Regardless of where he was picked, Randy Smith was a very good player for the Clippers, and at pick 104 he was the proverbial needle in a haystack if ever there was one.
1. Blake Griffin (Pick 1, 2009)
Blake Griffin’s otherwordly athleticism made him an exciting number one pick for a team with which that word had rarely been associated, but unfortunately his career got off to a bad start when a knee injury kept him off the court for nearly the entirety of his rookie season. Over the next eight seasons, however, he more than made up for that. Griffin made the Clippers compelling viewing during his time in Los Angeles, and was a 5x All-Star and 4x All-NBA for the team. They finished in the top five in the Western Conference for six consecutive seasons with Griffin leading the way – the most successful period of the team’s history – though unfortunately they didn’t enjoy the playoff success that many expected, and Griffin’s career with them ended on something of a sour note when he was unexpectedly traded soon after signing a monster five-year deal with the team. But despite that ending to his life as a Clipper, Griffin remains a key part of the franchise’s most successful era to date, and is clearly the best draft pick in their history.